Friday 22 July 2016

Art For Art's Sake, Money For Zara's Sake

Ethics in fashion can be a slippery business. We've talked for years about the poor treatment of migrant and third-world workers, about environmental abuses. But there are other, more heinous examples of poor ethical practice. These, like so many of the problems with fast fashion, can be blamed on the model itself.

Fast fashion relies on constant turnaround of new product. We're not just talking about seasonal changes. Week on week, fast fashion chains are refreshing their product lines, making sure there's always something new to entice customers in through the doors. The ideas and designs for those products can't just be mass produced. They have to come out of someone's head. Which is why the big stores often find it quicker and easier just to copy someone else, add a couple of tweaks, and get new items onto the shelves quick smart.

Tuesday Bassen, an indie artist with a pretty solid reputation, was made aware through her fans on social media that global fashion giant Zara has been doing just that. An illustrator by trade, she's branched out over the last couple of years into selling enamel pins and brooches based on her designs. Tuesday says:

“My company was borne out of my editorial illustration career, when I decided to pursue products as a way to connect directly with illustration lovers instead of art directors. In late 2015 I began making LA produced clothing based on my original illustrations. Since then, I have been featured in several major publications, including an article in Teen Vogue about being one of the New Faces of Feminism.”

But last week she was made aware that badges with designs very much like hers were popping up on clothes made by Zara. She reached out with a cease and desist order. Zara's response was, frankly, jaw-dropping. They rejected her claim as her work was too simple, and that as she didn't have the global marketplace of the Zara group, customers would not recognise the work as coming from her. In other words, she was too tiny a presence for her complaint to have any weight.

There's a fairly extensive takedown of that position on The Fashion Law website. But Zara (or rather Inditex, the parent company) seem to be confusing copyright and trademark protection. It seems pretty clear that Bassen has an almost watertight case to claim damages from the fashion giant.

And she's not the only one. A dozen other artists working in a similar style have also come forward with examples of their work appearing on plagiarised items from Zara stores. Perhaps Inditex thought that the fast turn-around model meant the badges would be in and out of the store so quickly that the artists wouldn't notice. In this case, they seem to have misunderstood their own customer base, and the ever-observant, ever-connected kids that make up such a large part of it.

The last word goes to Tuesday, who plans to pursue further legal action against Inditex:

“I felt incredibly disheartened that Zara essentially said, ‘We're a giant corporation and you're an independent artist, so you have no base and can't do anything because comparatively no one knows about you.’ I hate that I've had to spend thousands of dollars to even get that response and that Zara knows I'm essentially powerless because I have less money to defend myself than they do.”

Our View: this is a story that tells you a lot about the fast fashion giants, and their disregard for anything that stands in the way of profit. The Tuesday Bassen story has rightly blown up over the past few days. Let's hope if we can't persuade stores like Zara to do the right thing, then they can at least be publicly embarrassed into doing so.

One last point: does anyone think that Zara is the only big brand doing this? Keep your eyes peeled for the designs of your favourite artists on new clothing lines, and ask if they know that their work is being used, and if they are being fairly paid for it.


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